Nigeria Gets Africa's First Football Pitch Lit By Players

People walks past a semi-circle of solar powered kinetic pitch during the unveiling of Africa's first kinetic football pitch in Lagos, on December 10, 2015. By Pius Utomi Ekpei (AFP)

Lagos (AFP) - Africa's first football pitch lit solely by the players' movements has been inaugurated in Lagos, the economic hub of power-starved Nigeria, at a ceremony attended by US-Senegalese rapper Akon.

The technology, invented by a young British engineer, consists of placing electronic tiles under the artificial turf, which is converted into power by kinetic energy.

Each time a player steps on a tile, seven watts of electricity are generated and sent to a battery.

The stored power helps to feed six powerful but low consumption LED floodlights that shine on the pitch. Solar panels around the pitch complement the technology, stocking electricity throughout the day.

The system has already been installed at a football pitch in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, in football-mad Brazil, which hosted the 2014 World Cup.

"It's brilliant," said Kusagba Oluwadamilola, an 18-year-old sports student, who plays for the football team at the Federal College of Education (Technical), where the pitch has been set up.

"It's going to be really useful. Until now we couldn't play at night," he told AFP.

The man behind the technology, Laurence Kemball-Cook, 30, launched his own company, Pavegen, four years ago.

Since then, the invention has been installed in 150 locations across the globe from parks and airports to shops and even dance floors.

Inspiring new generations with new technology is essential, he said, particularly in Nigeria where residents often have just a few hours of power a day because of an erratic electricity supply.

As a result, households and companies are forced to rely on heavily polluting generators.

Kemball-Cook said the pitch would not only help "create a community" but also showed the need to diversify Africa's energy mix.

"We need solar, we need other solutions as well... we need it right now, we don't want to be using these fossil fuel generators. We need to be using more renewable sources of power," he said.

With the initial cost of solar energy high, Kemball-Cook said he hoped to bring down the cost of the tiles by mass production to as little as $50 (45 euros) per square metre through economies of scale.

- 'No brainer' -

Rap superstar Akon made a surprise appearance at the launch of the newly built pitch on Thursday to the delight of the students.

He has been involved in renewable energy projects with his Akon Lighting Africa, created in 2004, whose objective is to electrify Africa with solar energy.

The project is already running in 15 countries and he is aiming for 34 by 2020.

"I am proud to be here," said the singer and producer, who was born in the United States but spent his childhood in Senegal.

"Climate change makes things different today," he said, as delegates to a UN conference in Paris thrashed out a historic agreement to cut global warming.

The Pavegen tiles are "an extraordinary concept for Africans who play football every day," he added.

Football is the king of sports in Nigeria, whose national team the Super Eagles has won the African Cup of Nations three times, as well as gold at the 1996 Olympic Games.

"This is an amazing concept... to be able to generate energy while you're playing football to me is a no brainer to help build new renewable sources and also to support the entrepreneur that comes up with this invention," he added.

The development of renewable energy could create businesses and jobs in Africa, he added.

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell, partners of Pavegen, financed the installation of the pitch.

The company is the main oil explorer in Nigeria -- Africa's number one producer -- and has been widely criticised for the environmental impact of its activities in the Niger Delta region.

Pavegen and Shell have learnt lessons from the Rio pitch, where residents objected to having to pay by the hour. There will be no charge at the Lagos pitch.

Source: David ESNAULT
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